So Much for Yet Another Russian Reset

A flag of the Russian Federation
A flag of the Russian Federation (Amanda Graham)

From Reuters:

US president Donald Trump grudgingly signed into law on Wednesday new sanctions against Russia that Congress had approved overwhelmingly last week, criticizing the legislation as having “clearly unconstitutional” elements.

Ever since the United States entered the stage as a world power, it’s brushed up against Russia. From the 1918-20 international intervention that halfheartedly tried to prevent the rise of Soviet communism to this latest American sanctions bill, the US has long hoped to turn Russia into yet another reliable ally, joined together in a liberal order of peace and prosperity.

That geopolitical naivety is deeply embedded in the American body politic: candidate after candidate has hoped to defang the Russian bear with arms outreached, only to discover that Moscow sees not friendship but subjugation.

It is a relationship between an idealistic, extremely safe nation state and a cynical, deeply insecure one. One finds every betrayal or turnabout shocking; the other sees them as a natural course of events. Read more

Putin Has Already Got Most of What He Wanted from Trump

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras answers a question from a reporter in Moscow as Russian president Vladimir Putin looks on, April 8, 2015
Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras answers a question from a reporter in Moscow as Russian president Vladimir Putin looks on, April 8, 2015 (Presidential Press and Information Office)

Collusion or not, Vladimir Putin has already got most of what he wanted from Donald Trump.

As Rachel Maddow reported on MSNBC last night:

  • Russia wants the West divided, not united.
  • It wants to be recognized as an equal partner to the United States in the war in Syria.
  • It wants to keep Bashar Assad in power.
  • It seeks to defang American diplomacy.
  • And it wants back the “diplomatic” (spy) compounds in Maryland and Upstate New York the Obama Administration seized in retaliation for Russia’s attack on the 2016 election.

Trump has given Putin all this. Read more

Mixed Success for Trump at the G20 on Syria and Trade

German chancellor Angela Merkel gestures at American president Donald Trump during the G20 summit in Hamburg, July 8
German chancellor Angela Merkel gestures at American president Donald Trump during the G20 summit in Hamburg, July 8 (Bundesregierung)

The G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany has been a mixed success for American president Donald Trump.

On Syria:

  • On the one hand, Trump negotiated a ceasefire for southwestern Syria with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. American-backed rebels have been fighting the Russian-backed regime of Bashar Assad there.
  • On the other hand, he didn’t elicit Russia’s support for the war against the self-proclaimed Islamic State, which is Trump’s priority.

On trade:

  • On the one hand, G20 leaders conditioned open markets on “reciprocal and mutually advantageous trade” in their summit declaration and recognized the role of “legitimate trade defense instruments” — a political victory for Trump.
  • On the other hand, a threat from European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker to retaliate with EU trade sanctions appears to have persuaded Trump not to raise tariffs on steel. Read more

A New Cold War? Yes And No

Soviet T-72 tanks parade in Moscow's Red Square, November 7, 1983
Soviet T-72 tanks parade in Moscow’s Red Square, November 7, 1983 (Thomas Hedden)

Shirley Bassey reminds us that we all come full circle sometimes:

The word is about, there’s something evolving
Whatever may come, the world keeps revolving
They say the next big thing is here
That the revolution’s near
But to me it seems quite clear
That it’s all just a little bit of history repeating

Tension between the United States and North Korea, Russian involvement in Western elections, talk of a nuclear arms race and the use of phrases like “disinformation” — the present day has an aura of déjà vu. Like we’ve seen it before and we’ll see it again, to paraphrase Ms Bassey.

Many are referring to our time as another Cold War. As an historian, I can’t help but wonder if this is an appropriate comparison? Read more

What’s the Point in Talking to Putin?

Russian president Vladimir Putin listens during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, December 21, 2015
Russian president Vladimir Putin listens during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, December 21, 2015 (Presidential Press and Information Office)

If Donald Trump is hoping a good talk with Vladimir Putin in Hamburg, Germany on Friday will sort out East-West relations, he is probably mistaken.

David Kramer, who served in the George W. Bush Administration, argues in The American Interest that dialogue means little if your partner is unreliable.

  • Russia is on the opposite side in the Syrian Civil War, supporting the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad while doing little to eliminate the self-proclaimed Islamic State.
  • Russia has been supporting and arming the Taliban in their attacks on American troops in Afghanistan.
  • Russia continues to stir rebellion in southeastern Ukraine in violation of the Minsk ceasefires. Read more

Why America and Russia Are Closer to Confrontation in Syria

American sailors direct an EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft aboard the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman in the Atlantic Ocean, November 16, 2015
American sailors direct an EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft aboard the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman in the Atlantic Ocean, November 16, 2015 (USN/L.A. Preston)

Russia has suspended a military hotline it maintained with the United States to avoid clashes in Syria and warned that it may shoot down any “flying objects” west of the River Euphrates.

The escalation comes after an American fighter jet shot down a Syrian warplane on Sunday that was attacking rebel ground forces supported by the United States in the vicinity of the Tabqa Dam. Read more

Trump’s Team Was Desperate for Back Channel with Moscow

Jared Kushner listens as his wife, Ivanka, speaks with German chancellor Angela Merkel and American president Donald Trump outside the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, March 17
Jared Kushner listens as his wife, Ivanka, speaks with German chancellor Angela Merkel and American president Donald Trump outside the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, March 17 (White House/Shealah Craighead)

The Washington Post reports that Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law and one of the president’s top advisors, proposed setting up a secret back channel with the Kremlin in December during a meeting that was also attended by General Michael Flynn. Read more